With their expressive eyes and big floppy ears, coon dogs have an irresistible way of tugging at the heartstrings. (Anyone who ever cried reading Where the Red Fern Grows will agree.) Long a popular breed here in the mountains — the six distinctive breeds of coon dogs include the Plott Hound, North Carolina’s state dog — they’ve been used over the years to help hunters locate raccoons and other game animals large and small.
And, for the 55th year running, they’re being honored with their very own festival. Saluda’s annual Coon Dog Day celebrates the hardworking hunting dog with a notoriously quirky parade, a street fair with live music, and dog judging. During the treeing contest, the hound who bays most at the fake raccoon takes home the prize.
Coon dogs have been part of American rural culture for hundreds of years, but offering rescued hounds for adoption is something relatively new at the festival. American Black & Tan Coonhound Rescue from Tybee Island, GA and Carolina Coonhound Rescue, based in Charleston, SC, will have adoption booths in downtown Saluda on Coon Dog Day. Both nonprofits strive to rescue as many mistreated and abandoned hounds as possible, providing medical care, training, fostering, and loads of love as dogs wait to meet the right adopter.
As when adopting any potential pet, it’s important to do one’s homework. Hounds are affable and good natured. Their deep, distinctive baying is endearing to some — less so to others. Though they like a good nap and are known to take over couches, hounds were bred to hunt, so most need some kind of regular, vigorous exercise.
But Deb Barreiro, a board member with the Black & Tan group — which rescues bloodhounds as well as the classic American breed of the group’s title —refutes the notion that there’s one type of home for a hound. The best home is the “one that matches the needs of the individual dog,” she says. “Hounds have different personalities and [therefore] different needs.”
The way they’re found, though, can be heartbreakingly typical. Since they’re used to hunt, many aren’t viewed or treated as pets. “Most of the hounds we re-home are picked up as stray animals by small, rural animal-control departments … abandoned, emaciated, and suffering from parasites. My guess is they did not perform as expected or they were no longer useful to the owner,” says Barreiro.
Because these dogs have been living with the organization’s foster families, her volunteers are able to identify a hound’s needs. “We have male and female hounds of all ages and activity levels,” she notes. The goal is to match each dog with a family whose lifestyle will make everyone happy.
Coon Dog Day happens Saturday, July 7, in downtown Saluda. The 5K race starts at 8am and the parade at 11am, a bench show starts at 1pm and the baying contest at 3pm. The evening street dance goes until 11pm. For more information, see saluda.com/coon-dog-day or the event’s Facebook page. For more information about rescue hounds, see carolinacoonhoundrescue.com and coonhoundrescue.com.